We tend to think of Tarot as this long, winding road of development from early game to modern divinatory powerhouse. That’s an oversimplification, though. There were several “splits” off of the Tarot line that led to other interesting decks.
Like the Minchiate (min-key-AH-tee).
Originating in Florence, the Minchiate is essentially a Tarot deck with an expansion pack. It’s got the 56 Minors we’re all familiar with (although they’re non-scenic, like TdM pip cards), as well as a whopping 41 Majors!
That sounds really intimidating until we realize that 21 of those cards are damn near identical to Majors we already use (barring some name and number changes). Of the remaining cards, the majority are correspondences we pick up as we study Tarot. Really, by the time we winnow it down there’s only 4 new concept cards to learn, and they’re easier than we might think. How ’bout dem apples? 🙂
The Minchiate Majors break down like this:
- There’s a reordered (and in places renamed) Major Arcana that includes every card of the Tarot’s Major Arcana except the High Priestess. I thought that would be a deal-breaker for me but I found it surprisingly easy to adjust. Other cards fill in for her. This might be a challenge to those devoted to the order of the cards or relying heavily on the Fool’s Journey, though, so it’s something to keep in mind.
- All twelve zodiac signs have their own cards. No more trying to remember if the Chariot is Cancer or Sagittarius because there’s a separate card for that. Woohoo!
- The standard Tarot has cards representing three Virtues already: Strength, Justice, and Temperance. The Minchiate adds Prudence (the last cardinal Virtue) to the mix, as well as the three theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Their shadow sides would, of course, be the Seven Deadly Sins.
- The Minchiate also includes the Elements. Air, Water, Fire, and Earth all have their own cards. That might be my favorite addition out of all of them.
Once we’ve studied Tarot for any time at all we’ve come across most if not all of those ideas. Even the Virtues aren’t mysterious. Hell, even the spreads we’re familiar with work just fine!
All the Minchiate does is separate out some of the layers, coincidentally making all the cards less dense and more approachable.
It also gives us the flexibility to layer things in whole new ways.
Easing into the Minchiate
When I first started with the Minchiate I jumped in all at once. While I eventually sorted myself out, it’s not the approach I’d necessarily recommend. Instead, I suggest easing into it. It helps to find bearings as we go.
The first step is getting solid with Tarot. Seriously. That’s a HUGE leg up! That teaches us most if not all of what we need to read the Minchiate, and there are lots of books and study groups out there to help. Minchiate is much less popular than Tarot, to my eternal dismay, so we kind of have to forge our own path and develop our own systems within the Minchiate framework. Tarot helps us do that effectively.
Once we’ve got a solid grasp of Tarot, we can gradually add Minchiate cards into what we already know by going through the following stages.
1. Read it like Tarot.
This is kind of like first-stage Minchiate reading. Here the reader removes all the extra cards except one of the Virtues (usually Charity because of the visual similarities). She stands in as the High Priestess card. That gives us Tarot’s 22 Major Arcana cards. How handy!
Then we set aside the extras entirely and read our deck just like we would the Tarot. We can use the spreads we’re used to, do daily draws, journal, whatever. This is a great place to start for those needing some time to adjust to the name and numbering changes in the Majors. It also helps those new to reading pip cards.
2. Oh, look. Clarification cards!
This next step is fun and trippy. I like it a lot. It gives some fantastic and occasionally mind-bendy twists to the cards we’re familiar with.
First, pull out all the strictly Minchiate cards and set them to the side. (Yes, this includes Charity.) We wind up with two stacks of cards, a standard working deck and a smaller deck of clarification cards.
Read as usual with the larger working deck. However, if/when we run into a card that requires clarification, pull a card from the clarification deck instead of the working deck. Simple, right?
This can be loads of fun! Stuck on how to manifest the Queen of Swords and want some direction? Maybe Prudence is the key. Not sure how to progress with the Magician? Maybe working with Scorpio energy is the way to go! Ace of Pentacles makes no sense? Maybe accessing the Water of that card will clear the way.
This really showcases the flexibility of the Minchiate system and forces us to interpret the energy of the cards in whole news ways. It also lets us tackle learning one card at a time in an actual reading instead of studying the book. I’m a fan.
3. Add in the Elements
As soon as we dip our toes into Tarot we learn the four classic elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. We’re used to seeing different phases of these elements as we progress through the pips of the Minor Arcana, and that doesn’t change in the Minchiate.
However, in Minchiate decks the essence of each element gets its own Major card, too. Think of the keywords we have for Cups, for instance: spirituality, emotion, compassion, flexibility, receptiveness, interactions, relationships, etc. Those keywords are represented in their entirety by the Water card. We’ve already got this info in our heads. All the Minchiate does is give us a card for it.
When comfy with using the elements as clarification cards, remove them from the clarification deck and add them to the working deck. They can be a bit of a challenge to get a specific answer from, but that can be said for ALL the Majors. At least they’re in good company!
3. Add in the Missing Virtues
As I mentioned earlier, the traditional Tarot already includes the three Virtues of Strength, Justice, and Temperance. Those cards are in the Minchiate, too. However, the Minchiate also adds four more.
These are the cards of the Minchiate that might be the most perplexing for modern readers, so here’s a brief description of each so we can see how they break out.
Temperance – balance, moderation, restraint, equilibrium. Standard Tarot stuff.
Strength – power, dynamism, will, moral force. Also standard.
Justice – fairness, uprightness, equity, impartiality. Again, standard.
Hope – Think of this as half of the Tarot’s Star card. Hope sustains comfort in trying times, looking above and beyond present circumstances to something brighter and better in the future. In the Minchiate, the Star thus becomes a messenger of glad tidings, blessings, and the presence of grace. As it does in so many ways, this is an example of the Minchiate breaking out what Tarot layers together, giving us two distinct aspects to play with in our readings.
Prudence – seeing things as they truly are, instead of the illusions we may prefer, and having the wisdom to roll with that. This is the card I tend to most often associate with Tarot’s High Priestess card on a divinatory level.
Faith – Think of this as half of Tarot’s Hierophant card. It represents religious beliefs, doctrine, and even fervor. The Minchiate’s Emperor of the East (the renamed Hierophant card) thus becomes a card of formal and traditional authority. It retains the connotations of complexity, refinement, and even secrecy, but ditches the religious implications of the Tarot’s Hierophant. Again, this unpacks and separates those two distinct aspects.
Charity – spiritual love, generosity, and empathy for fellow man, loving others as we do ourselves.
None of these are difficult to manage, and they’re the most challenging part of the deck! I found them remarkably easy to add into my readings, actually, and find that the enhance it way more than I’d previously thought they would.
As before, use these as clarification cards until they feel super comfortable. Then add them to the working deck.
4. The Zodiac Cards
Almost done! All that’s left in the clarification deck by now are the Zodiac cards. There are twelve of them, and unfortunately they can’t really be added in batches. They need to all get added to the working deck together.
On the plus side, though, it’s almost impossible to live in the West and not have at least a vague idea that Cancers are homebodies and Taurus folks are stubborn. We get that from newspaper horoscopes. Most Tarot books talk about the astrological correspondences of Tarot cards too, so huzzah for those already having that background. It helps.
If the zodiac descriptions don’t speak to us as readers, we can always consider using the associated myth as a launching pad instead. Why not take an alternative approach? We can do that. 🙂
As usual, these can all be added to the working deck once we’re solid with them.
5. Reading the Minchiate
And BAM! That’s it! Success!!! From this point on we’re golden! That’s all it takes to move from Tarot reading to Minchiate reading. Wasn’t that painless? GO US! *high fives and cheering*
I wish you much joy in this unusual – but hopefully interesting – variation of Tarot!
Are you interested in the Minchiate but unsure where to start? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Are you an experienced Minchiate reader? I’d love to read your take on things in the comments too!